MASCOUCHE, Que. – A young helicopter pilot picked up a pair of passengers for what was supposed to be a routine weekend flight over the north shore of Montreal.
Instead, Sebastien Foray wound up in an international news story.
Plans for a routine Sunday excursion dissipated quickly, as he allegedly found himself staring down the barrel of a .38-calibre handgun.
“They took out a gun and said, ‘You’re going to St-Jerome prison,’ ” said Yves Le Roux, the owner of Passport Helico, where Foray works.
And thus began a tale that saw a spectacular jailbreak, a gunfight between police and fugitives, and news media from multiple countries chronicling Foray’s unwanted adventure.
The pilot was ordered to land on a tower above the provincial jail. Once there, his passengers pulled some rope out of a backpack and let it tumble out toward the ground level below, Le Roux said.
And up came two inmates, springing out from the prison yard.
Le Roux said they flew another two or three minutes, with the escaped prisoners dangling from the helicopter, and they landed in an open field where they were able to hop aboard.
He said that particular landing was bumpy – at least for one passenger. One of the inmates had become tangled in the rope, upside-down, and may have smashed into the ground.
From there, they flew toward a hotel in the Laurentians where the four passengers exited – but not before someone pulled a T-shirt over the pilot’s head, Le Roux said, so he wouldn’t witness the getaway.
Foray was soon found by police and brought to a hospital, where he spent a few hours being treated for nervous shock.
A Passport Helico employee said Foray is 23 and has worked there for a couple of years. His interest in helicopters also extends beyond work, with a number of flight videos posted under his name on a social media website.
Foray was back home Monday, resting from the ordeal.
“There was no violence against him – except for the gun pulled on him,” Le Roux said. “It was just threats.”
Hours later, the two alleged accomplices and the two escaped inmates were found and arrested.
They appeared in court Monday, where they were slapped with nearly two-dozen charges including breaking out of prison, kidnapping, and pointing a gun at someone. Police raised the possibility of other charges.
Although the suspects did not enter a plea, they were expected to do so as early as their next court appearance on April 16.
In the meantime, police weren’t taking any more chances with these prisoners.
“We’re going to need more shackles,” one provincial officer shouted out to colleagues as he emerged from the courthouse garage, where he’d been loading the already-shackled suspects into a van.
A moment later, the van with the suspects sped away from the courthouse and back to prison, surrounded by police cars with their lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Police said Monday that they considered the suspects armed and extremely dangerous. At least one had been linked in news reports over the years to the Hells Angels criminal biker gang.
There was an exchange of gunfire during the operation, police said Monday.
Provincial police spokesman Benoit Richard said the gun shots rang out at a rural cabin where the fugitives had been tracked down the previous day. He said nobody was injured.
“When they got out of their vehicle they started shooting,” he said. Because of that, Richard raised the possibility of attempted murder charges.
“We shot back.”
The prosecution will oppose bail for all four suspects. Crown lawyer responded bluntly when asked how serious the charges were.
“You’re talking about an escape from a prison – one of our institutions – in a helicopter,” prosecutor Steve Baribeau said.
The men staged their dramatic daylight jailbreak Sunday when they climbed a rope into a hovering helicopter. Their freedom was shortlived as police moved swiftly to track them down at the cabin.
Just before 8:30 p.m. E.T., about six hours after the escape, police confirmed they had arrested Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and two other suspects.
The pilot, Foray, had been tracked down first, alongside his helicopter.
Much of the action took place in Chertsey, Que., about 50 kilometres north of the jail in Saint-Jerome from where the inmates escaped.
Officers had blocked off the main road in Chertsey, not far from the village of St-Marguerite, and were pulling over cars Sunday night.
Earlier Sunday, authorities said 36-year-old Hudon-Barbeau and 33-year-old Danny Provencal had broken out of the jail by clambering up a rope into a waiting helicopter. They were arrested within hours along with two alleged accomplices, identified as Mathieu Steven Marchisio and Yage Beaudoin.
Police had tracked down the helicopter about 85 kilometres away in Mont-Tremblant, but only Foray was still at the scene.
Hours after the jailbreak, a Montreal radio station, 98.5 FM, received a call from a man claiming to be Hudon-Barbeau, who said he was “ready to die” as he tried to evade police.
“The way they’re treating me in there, it’s unreal,” the man told the radio station. “They won’t let me be. They put me back in prison for nothing.”
Authorities did not immediately speak to the claims made in the radio station interview.
Richard said Hudon-Barbeau had suffered a non-firearm related injury during the incident and was under guard in hospital. Based on information from the helicopter company it’s believed the injury occurred during the second of the three landings, in the field.
Hudon-Barbeau was limping Monday, dragging one leg as he arrived in court.
According to a provincial police release, Hudon-Barbeau was arrested in November 2012 on two firearm-related charges and associating with people who have a criminal record. The arrest came in a Montreal strip club, as part of an investigation into a double-murder in Quebec’s Laurentians.
Yves Galarneau, the correctional services manager who oversees the St-Jerome jail, said he’d never seen anything like Sunday’s dramatic escape in more than three decades on the job.
Galarneau said there are no security measures in place at the jail to prevent a helicopter from swooping down from above.
“As far as I know, it’s a first in Quebec,” he told reporters at the scene. “It’s exceptional.”
While the tactic may have been a first for Quebec, using a chopper to break out of jail has a long and colourful history, and not just in the movies.
A New York businessman, Joel David Kaplan, used a chopper to escape from a Mexican jail in 1971, and went on to write a book about it.
Pascal Payet, a French prisoner, used a helicopter to escape on three occasions, only to be caught by authorities every time.
The facility at the centre of Sunday’s escapade in Quebec is a provincial detention centre with a maximum-security wing.
The St-Jerome jail, located some 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, experienced a mini-riot by about a dozen prisoners a little over a month ago.
In that incident, police had been asked to secure the outside of the prison, which holds about 480 inmates, and facility staff used pepper spray to disperse the mob.